NRC Advances Southern Co. Bid to Build U.S. Nuclear Units

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has scheduled a vote for Feb. 9 on Southern Co.’s application for the first construction permit to build nuclear reactors in more than 30 years.

The NRC’s announcement, posted today on the agency’s website, is required seven days before a public meeting. The Nuclear Energy Institute expects the application to be approved, Marvin Fertel, chief executive officer of the Washington-based industry group, said Jan. 18 at a conference in Washington.

“The commissioners have the tools they need to issue” the license, Steve Higginbottom, a Southern spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Southern is planning to build two reactors at its Vogtle power plant, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) southeast of Augusta, Georgia. The Atlanta-based company said the first unit would be in operation by 2016 with the second reactor working a year later. Construction will cost about $14 billion.

The NRC also is considering a license for Scana Corp. of Cayce, South Carolina, to build two reactors at an existing plant, as the agency weighs new safety rules for the U.S. nuclear-power industry after Japan’s disaster last year.

Preliminary Work

Southern, which applied for the license to build and operate the reactors in March 2008, had begun preliminary work on cooling towers and structures unrelated to nuclear safety as it awaited the NRC’s review of the construction and operation permit. The U.S. Energy Department in February 2010 conditionally approved an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to help the company build the two reactors.

The NRC’s scheduled vote at a public meeting is tentative, according to the website. The five commissioners will be voting to affirm their written positions on the application, which are circulated among colleagues to reach consensus before the meeting.

The last operating reactor to win a construction permit was Progress Energy Inc.’s Shearon Harris plant, about 20 miles southwest of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1978, Scott Burnell, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail.

A partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979 stalled development of U.S. nuclear power, which accounts for about 20 percent of all electricity produced in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.

A 9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011 caused meltdowns and radiation leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, triggering an NRC review of safety rules for U.S. plants. It was the world’s worst civil atomic disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe in what is now Ukraine.

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